iMac or Mac Mini?

#1
It seems I may be looking into a new computer soon. My 2012 iMac is running well, but making some "old man noises" occasionally, so I want to be prepared.

I like iMacs, and they've been my workhorse for years after not being able to afford Mac Pros. I see the Minis getting more powerful, but comparing the specs for them against iMacs is very confusing (to me, anyway).

Since most of us use our Macs for similar work (animating, rendering, Photoshop, etc.) does anyone have any recommendations for one over the other? The iMAc Pro is too steep for me, so it's between the iMAcs and Minis.

Thanks.

Bob
 

Swizl

Active member
#2
Hi bob, are we you wanting to buy a new machine or a used one?

iMac pros are that the newer ones have a 5k screen. I have the 2015 5k iMac at work and that screen is beautiful.

The Mac mini is more portable and maybe slightly easier to work on the hardware if you ever need to replace the hard drive yourself.

I have a Dell 4K screen plugged into my MacPro5,1 at home. I’m not sure what resolution the Mac Mini’s can push? I’d consult MacTracker depending on which Mac Mini model you’re looking at. Although you may be wanting to use a moniter you already have?

The price of the 5k iMacs are really good for what you get. 5k - 8k screens by themselves are pretty expensive. I don’t think you can go very wrong with either option, but some models don’t have upgradeable parts. So you could be stuck with whatever amount of RAM the computers come with.
 
#3
Thanks! Definitely go with new. I'm not very techy anymore. I've rep[laced RAM in older Macs many years ago, but that's the extent of my tech abilities!

I will check MacTracker.

Bob
 
#4
The Mac mini is more portable and maybe slightly easier to work on the hardware if you ever need to replace the hard drive yourself.
Latest Minis have the SSD sodered to mother board - so only serviceable by Apple in event of crash. Only thing about the new Mini I don't really like. Also integrated GPU is pretty average - definitely look into its resolution capabilities as Swizl suggested.

Edit: meant to write integrated GPU
 
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#5
Also, Minis have a Intel UHD Graphics 630 graphics card I've never heard of. Then again, I'm not up on this stuff as I used to be.

And, Apple has gone back to Radeons (again) in the iMacs. Not sure which is the better card for graphics/3D work.

Bob
 

Swizl

Active member
#6
Ah ok, what pegot said is also a something to consider. That's a pretty big negative though not being able to at least somewhat easily replace the hard drive if it goes bad. I've probably had at least 6 or 7 HD's go bad on me over the last 20 years. Those were all the older spinning drives, but it does happen.

The discrete graphics cards (ATI or Nvidia) will always be better than the integrated cards. Not that the integrated ones are totally terrible for most peoples use, but for more intensive graphics and 3d work, discrete will always win. As far as Cheetah is concerned (and the majority of other 3d apps) the CPU is the thing to pay attention to the most, as it is what the renderer uses. The RAM and GPU come into play more for how smooth the viewport runs and other app calculations. That's why some older computers that only have integrated graphics don't work well for a lot of 3d apps. The older version of OpenGL they support don't allow a lot of different advanced viewports to be shown. I have Modo 801 running on a 2008 MacBook. It doesn't run great and a lot of the advanced viewport shading doesn't work correctly. But I can model in it. The newer integrated cards can probably handle it ok for now, but they may not have the longevity an ATI or Nvidia card will. If Martin ever adds some functionality, like ProRenderer or some other interactive rendering engine to C3d, then what GPU you have will be a lot more important.

You may want to check out Apple's refurbished models. They are all inspected by Apple. I've bought a few Macs that way and saved a good bit of money. They looked totally brand new and were packaged just like if they were brand new. https://www.apple.com/shop/refurbished
 
#7
For rendering with Cheetah (Falcon) you want as many cores (threads) as possible.
The new minis have 6-cores at least but I think only the i7 does hyperthreading, that means 12 threads for rendering.

The iMacs have not been refreshed last October, they run with outdated quadcores besides their gorgeous 5k displays.
GPU rendering isn't there yet and Apple doesn't include decent graphics anyways.

I would wait for new iMacs in spring and if not buy something refurbished as Swizl recommended.
 
#9
As far as Cheetah is concerned (and the majority of other 3d apps) the CPU is the thing to pay attention to the most, as it is what the renderer uses.
For Cheetah yes, the rest not anymore. Most renderers use the gpu, too, and sad as it is, nvidia-cards for that. And it's faster than CPU-rendering. Even the native modo renderer which is still CPU-only has in the new version an inbuilt denoiser that works only with nvidia (nvidia optix. You find it in the final color output properties). And they will get ProRender (it's still in testing).

ProRender is from AMD and of course for their cards but works with nvidia, too. But it still isn't finished and while it gets some stuff beautifully rendered, there is still a lot missing. Martin somewhere stated that it could be integrated in Cheetah one day.

So a dedicated GPU, even just a decent one like the one I expect they will use in the coming iMacs, will be a lot more useful in the near future. But as Mis said: It's important to wait for the next batch of iMacs. And of course it's the question what kind of processors they'll get.

The actual 8 core i7 doesn't have multithreading, only the 4 core and the 2 core i7. Which ... well ... somehow astonished me. A 2 core i7? That doesn't mean it can't be faster than (some) older ones with 8 threads. But it will be necessary to look into it.

That said, and I know i'm a minority of one, I do prefer cpu- over gpu-rendering because of the cost (at least there are external graphic cards around, so if it gets to be a problem, it can at least be solved. But it's expensive, too).

The new iMacs will hopefully still have the possibility to upgrade RAM later on (it's even easy with the older ones).

The other point are the monitors. As Swizl stated, those things are quiet expensive, it's not sure how smoothly a similar resolution runs on a mini, and the iMac has just a beautiful picture.The color space is not the adobe one, of course, but something apple specific (I like it). And Full HD really is just pixel-pulp compared to a 5k-monitor (but at least with my right eye, i still see the grid).

So i would go for the iMac, at least as long as it's not known that Apple somehow messed them up, too. For professionals or dedicated hobbyists, they want to sell the iMac Pros ...
 
#10
Agreed with Swizl about used vs new. For what it is worth, I just bought a MacPro at OWC. It looks absolutely new, and they were able to configure it how I wanted - 12 cores, 48GB of RAM, and 2TB SSD. About half price of new. I've bought used from Apple, as well, and same thing. Very nice, and I was able to buy more power for less.
 

Swizl

Active member
#11
Agreed with Swizl about used vs new. For what it is worth, I just bought a MacPro at OWC. It looks absolutely new, and they were able to configure it how I wanted - 12 cores, 48GB of RAM, and 2TB SSD. About half price of new. I've bought used from Apple, as well, and same thing. Very nice, and I was able to buy more power for less.
Those 2010 / 2012 MacPro towers are hard to beat for the price you can get them now. Especially if you pump it up with RAM, SSD and newer GPU. An RX 580 can be had for between $200 and $300 and supposedly works out of the box (haven't tested that though).
https://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Description=rx 580 8gb&Submit=ENE

Also the MacVidCards guy usually has new stock pretty often now. I bought a flashed GTX card from him and it works great. Only problem now is that there aren't any drivers for (most) Nvidia cards on Mojave. But it works great for the time being in High Sierra with web drivers. Safer bet for now is the Radeon line, but you don't get any access to CUDA apps. Like Hasdrubal mentioned, ProRender and other GPU agnostic rendering software are being developed now though. http://www.macvidcards.com/
 
#12
I'd like to join this discussion. I too am about to empty my bank account, and donate to Apple who is direly in need of money.
This is what I'm thinking of getting as my Old 2009 MacBook Pro gets more and more shaky "unwell" as well as not being able to use Metal.
21.5-inch iMac with Retina 4K display
Hardware
  • 3.0GHz quad-core 7th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz
  • 8GB 2400MHz DDR4
  • 1TB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
  • Radeon Pro 555 with 2GB video memory
Will this run C3D OK?
Thank you for reading and leaving an opinion should you want to.
 
#13
@Uncle:
Don't buy an i5 processor (4 cores, 4 threads), always choose the i7 (4 cores, 8 threads) for faster rendering.
Better don't waste your precious bucks on this outdated and overpriced hardware, likely in spring they will release 6-cores rendering way faster for a similar price.
If you need it right now, save money and buy a refurbished one as Swizl recommended.
Metal is not needed for Cheetah right now and once it comes you better get an eGPU to speed up your Mac.
 
#14
In general it makes sense to consult a benchmark site like geekbench in order to get an impression of the rendering capabilities of a given processor.
Now Apple doesn't even provide information about the exact type of the Intel CPU they implement.
But f.i. on everymac there are all Macs listed including hardware specifications and the geekbench result, which corresponds well with Cheetah3D CPU rendering capability (important: compare multi core, not single core results!).

I would never buy a Mac without checking the specs there.
(In fact I did when the Mac mini was refreshed in October - and the iMac wasn't - and bought a PC then:p )
 
#15
Hi Bob,
I've been working on the old 4-core mac minis for years - I have currently few of them as a small rendering farm with C3D. I had a chance to work on some of my complex models on the new iMacs too. To be honest, there isn't a huge difference. C3D uses processor power to do the rendering, so when you look at benchmark scores on Geekbench, you get a very accurate idea of how much faster your new machine will do the rendering. From my experience, it is more valuable to spend some time optimising your 3D model and render settings rather than paying lots of money for new, more powerful computers.
When it comes to Photoshop or other software utilising your graphics card, it is a different story. It does make a difference when you use a computer with a dedicated graphics card, so in this case, I would prefer an iMac. But if C3D is the tool of your choice, the Mac minis are perfect in my opinion. Most importantly, more processor cores = faster render times.
 
#16
I have currently few of them as a small rendering farm with C3D
Would be interesting if it were true ... But somehow this post from a new member smells a bit fishy to me (and in all probability it will be changed to some spam in a week or two ...)

@uncle808us
Mis' advice is good as always. But I believe if the new iMacs will get a 6-core-i5, that would be ok, too (if). On the other hand, it's possible that there will be i7 with 4 cores (8 threads) or even two (4 threads), as I wrote before. So it's this time around really necessary to take a look at the benchmarks.

Another thing is the screen. I know, the 27" iMacs are expensive, but for modeling the screen can't be big enough (if there wasn't so much clutter on my desk (stuff I need)), I'd probably go for a second monitor).

And I would go for 16 GB RAM.
 
#17
Would be interesting if it were true ... But somehow this post from a new member smells a bit fishy to me (and in all probability it will be changed to some spam in a week or two ...)
Sorry, I don't know why I appear as a new member, I haven't been around for some time, but I had been active in the forum before.
My C3D render farm works for me for years. I published some stuff about sequential rendering in the forum here:
https://www.cheetah3d.com/forum/index.php?threads/11767/

It is actually very simple. I use dropbox to sync my C3D files across my render nods (mac minis). Automator running on the servers in the background picks up a new file, opens it, hits render, and when finished, it takes the most recent file from the Render History and saves it in a designated folder in Dropbox... which is again synchronised back to my work Mac.

I use it for animations too. Only difference is in identifying when the rendering is finished and sending back not the most recent image, but all images in the most recent folder in Render History.

If people are interested, I can put together some kind of manual on how to do this.
 

Swizl

Active member
#18
Sorry, I don't know why I appear as a new member, I haven't been around for some time, but I had been active in the forum before.
My C3D render farm works for me for years. I published some stuff about sequential rendering in the forum here:
https://www.cheetah3d.com/forum/index.php?threads/11767/

It is actually very simple. I use dropbox to sync my C3D files across my render nods (mac minis). Automator running on the servers in the background picks up a new file, opens it, hits render, and when finished, it takes the most recent file from the Render History and saves it in a designated folder in Dropbox... which is again synchronised back to my work Mac.

I use it for animations too. Only difference is in identifying when the rendering is finished and sending back not the most recent image, but all images in the most recent folder in Render History.

If people are interested, I can put together some kind of manual on how to do this.
Martin updated the forum software, so it re-set everyone back to these "New Member" descriptions when it switched over. I remember reading about your initial set up of your render farm. Rather smart. I'd be interested to see how you do it. Although I don't have multiple machines to run a small farm with, I may eventually set up my home MacPro5,1 as a render machine while I'm at work. So being able to do it remotely would be helpful. :cool:
 
#19
Martin updated the forum software, so it re-set everyone back to these "New Member" descriptions when it switched over. I remember reading about your initial set up of your render farm. Rather smart. I'd be interested to see how you do it. Although I don't have multiple machines to run a small farm with, I may eventually set up my home MacPro5,1 as a render machine while I'm at work. So being able to do it remotely would be helpful. :cool:
I'll try to put together some step by step manual over the weekend. I've been tweaking that Automator for years, it is rough, any programmer would be probably laughing at it, but it does what I need it to do. Maybe it could inspire the clever guys around here to put it into some kind of script or plug-in. That would be amazing :)
 
#20
Hi Tomas

I'm real sorry. I got something seriously wrong here :oops:. You know, sometimes there are posting from people who later on change the message to something else.

'Render farm' clicked with me as a real render farm, i. e. where some software renders a pic or an animation on several computers at the same time and handles all the nodes (the different computers). As soon as one has finished a bucket or a frame, it puts the stuff together and sends out a new part for that machine. Well, you probably know the principle. And that it's not possible, at least not in this degree, with Cheetah.

By the way, new hardware, compared to something already a few years old, can in my experience speed up the rendering significantly. Of course, you're right about optimizing the render settings and the model (and maybe delete unseen parts), but with that done, the cpu power can make a big difference. It's not that dramatic anymore, but some years ago I replaced a very expensive pc with something new and not that fancy. I tested it with a lightwave render that had taken several hours. I was expecting a heavy drop around 50 % and hoped for more. It was rendered within a few minutes (everything the same as before. I even did control it). Like I said, some drop like this will not happen with todays hardware.

So it's well worth, in my opinion, to buy a decent machine and in this case wait for the next generation of imacs.
 
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